When You’re 64: A Creative & Musical Celebration

This piece is dedicated to my dear friend, Nakula Cryer

 Last Friday night, I won a “guess the age” raffle. How did I know? When the birthday boy surprised 70 people at his party by stepping up to the microphone and began singing:

When I get older losing my hair,

Many years from now,

Will you still be sending me a valentine

Birthday greetings bottle of juice? (substituted for “wine”)

Like countless other Baby Boomers who have memorized Paul McCartney’s wonderful song “When I’m 64”, I wondered what it would be like to attend your own 64th birthday party and serenade your spouse or significant other with this song. I found out at Ananda College of Living Wisdom, where I teach writing, social media and online communication. The students and Nakula’s wife, Ananda College Chairperson of the Board Nischala Cryer, declared a party with a hippie theme — reminding me very much of my surprise birthday parties when I turned 30 and 40 — and we gathered to honor the college president, Nakula Cryer.

If I’d been out till quarter to three

Would you lock the door,

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Nakula spent the week playing coy about his age, even creating a “guess my age” raffle. I played coy with him, too, bolstered by an intuitive hunch that this was his year, the year many Baby Boomers consider magical because of this magical song on The Beatles’ magical Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. More on that in a moment. We decked out the dining room in full party regalia, and the cooks prepared pasta with alfredo, marinara and pesto sauces for the expected crowd.

oo oo oo oo oo oo oo oooo

You’ll be older too, (ah ah ah ah ah)

And if you say the word,

I could stay with you.

We gathered and ate, students and faculty dressed in various forms of hippie garb, the guests looking like they’d missed their ride on the fashion time machine. Soon, it became apparent this was more than a party. This rainy night blossomed into a musical, entertaining, poignant, humorous and creative tribute to a man who, with Nischala, acted upon the quite remarkable vision of uniting yoga philosophy, forward-thinking Education for Life practices, liberal arts and inspirational arts into a four-year college that now draws students from throughout the world. I know one thing, realizing there is some bias in this remark: I would do anything to attend this college. Not only do brains get informed, but lives get transformed and deepened here.

After a fine musical performance by guest singers, members of the faculty took turns roasting Nakula in a soft, gentle way through song and funny lyrics. Everyone laughed, including the guest of honor. Then my prized poetry student, Bardia Behmard, recited a piece about nicknames he composed for the occasion; seems Nakula tagged him with the nickname “The Bard.” Appropriate, considering this young man’s gift for verse. The way he writes, I sometimes wonder if someone reached back into the hallowed deserts of Ancient Persia and transplanted him in the Sierra foothills.

I could be handy mending a fuse

When your lights have gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside

Sunday mornings go for a ride.

The next bit of entertainment stirred our hearts: Kamran, the principal-in-waiting at Ananda’s Living Wisdom (High) School and a former teacher at Huntington Beach (CA) High School, reciting Walt Whitman’s immortal ode to Abraham Lincoln, “O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done…” During his recitation, all of the students stood up on chairs, recreating the closing scene of the great Robin Williams movie Dead Poets Society, and paid tribute to the captain of their collegiate ship. Beautiful.

Kamran’s performance of “O Captain! My Captain!” moved us, but the next few minutes surprised and delighted us: Nakula, along with our resident master soloist and music mentor, Chaitanya Mahoney, and two guitarists moved to center stage with their “band.” Nakula stepped up and belted out “When I’m 64” in perfect pitch, perfect meter …

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Afterward, Nakula and the others sang the front and back of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, along with “With A Little Help from My Friends,” the Who’s “My Generation,” and of course, The Beatles’ rowdy “Happy Birthday.” (We also sang the more traditional version, complete with three birthday cakes that were wheeled out for Nakula and Kayla, one of our students, whose birthday was the following day). I sat back, marveling at the beauty of this occasion — a 64-year-old man singing lead at his own birthday party, surrounded by people ages 3 to 88 who love him dearly.

Sitting at the back of the room, my heart warmed with deep gratitude for the twists and turns that landed me here to teach such attuned and brilliant students. This college focuses on the qualities that bring out the best in us as individuals, and helps us to bring out the best in each other. We not only offer these students the richest and most attentive college education you can imagine, but also inspire them to lead with their hearts. We prepare them to go into the world ready to raise the spirits and touch the dreams of everyone they meet or with whom they do business. If there is a teacher’s heaven, I’m in it.

Every summer we can rent a cottage

In the Isle of Wight, if it’s not too dear

We shall scrimp and save

Grandchildren on your knee

Vera, Chuck, and Dave

After the rousing musical performance, Nakula drew the “guess my age” raffle ticket. After a few misses that prompted sour looks — 67, 68, 66 — he held my ticket. He called me up to the front, and shared with all of us the only poem he ever wrote — a six-line nod to a gardener at Tassajara, the Zen Buddhist retreat in Big Sur. I knew his age all week. This birthday party’s theme song had been playing in my head the whole time. But I didn’t stand up there with an ear-to-ear smile because of winning a raffle. I looked out at the people and thought to myself, “This is what everyone was singing about and yearning for in the ’60 and early ‘70s; these people figured it out.”

With that, Nakula thanked everyone for coming to his party — and we wiped the floor clear of tables and chairs and really cranked it up. The speakers popped with the soundtrack of our generation. We sang along and danced, Nakula and Nischala often in the middle of their circle of friends, moving to the music that defined our journeys into adulthood. More than once, I looked over to the students, some of whom were dancing with faculty, some with each other. To a person, they were blown away at the way our generation took over the dance floor and owned it. For two solid hours, we celebrated the Beatles, Moody Blues, Doobie Brothers, Hendrix, Allman Brothers, Kinks, Monkees, Beach Boys, Five String Electrical Band (remember the 1971 mega-long hair hit, “Signs”?), Tower of Power, Sly & The Family Stone, until we brought the house down with a rousing sing-a-long of the finale, Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.”

Ken Rauen, our resident DJ, was dialed into the night. It showed in his song selection. Every tune carried messages of love, joy, happiness, peace, the power of dream, heart, beauty and/or hope. So much for those who think all rock music is a dark, Satanic rhythm. Think again.

Send me a postcard, drop me a line,

Stating point of view.

Indicate precisely what you mean to say

Yours sincerely, Wasting Away.

 At around 11, we erased the dance floor, pushing the tables back into place. A weary but elated Nakula hugged me, then he and Nischala said goodnight and walked to their house. I walked toward my abode, and saw three students sitting on a couch in the lounge. One was Chitra, my soon-to-graduate student and web designer for Word Journeys. She sat there, buzzing but exhausted after dancing her heart out all night, dressed in full hippie regalia — skirts, beads, colorful top, headband.

She smiled and shook her head. She looked at her fellow students, then at me. “We might wear the clothes, listen to the music and talk the talk, but you guys really know how to rock!”

 Yes, we do. We also know how to love and how to live.

 Give me your answer, fill in a form

Mine for evermore

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

Whoo! 

Happy Birthday, Nakula. May 64 be your greatest year yet.

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1 Comment

Filed under Adult Literacy, Author Platform, Education, Featured Websites, literature, Music, poetry, Social Media, travelogue

One response to “When You’re 64: A Creative & Musical Celebration

  1. What a special night it was! Thanks for writing such a beautiful piece about the occasion.

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